ACC Team Preview: Syracuse OrangePosted by Chris Kehoe on October 23rd, 2013
The Syracuse Orange had a great season last year, largely overachieving on their way to a 30-10 record and a Final Four appearance. After struggling to an 11-7 conference record in the swan song for the mighty Big East Conference, they rode a wave of momentum behind their tenacious zone defense all the way to Atlanta where they fell to Michigan. Much of their overall success was due to senior leaders Brandon Triche and sixth man extraordinaire James Southerland. Losing these two seniors and play-making savant Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA Draft lottery removed much of the nucleus head coach Jim Boeheim relied upon in the 2012-13 season. However, Syracuse does return arguably the team’s most valuable and versatile player in C.J. Fair, who led the team in points and rebounds per game from the forward slot. Much of the team’s success this year will rely on Syracuse’s patented zone defense and Fair’s ability to shoulder an even larger offensive role without Southerland, Carter-Williams and Triche around to help shoulder the burden. There certainly will be a nice “shock factor” present in unleashing their vaunted defense against the rest of the new ACC this season that will have Boeheim cushioning his already exorbitant wins total.
- Senior forward C.J. Fair: Widely considered one of the best players in the ACC. Should be in a compelling year-long battle for ACC Player of the Year with Virginia’s Joe Harris and Duke’s Jabari Parker. A second team all-Big East performer last season, Fair is a versatile and athletic leader for this Syracuse team. Big things are expected from the Baltimore native in a transition year for Syracuse athletics to the ACC.
- Sophomore forward Jerami Grant: The 6’8” DeMatha alumnus is pegged by many analysts to have a breakout season. While he did not have a successful freshman season, he is a future project based on his rangy and lanky body type and the athleticism he has exhibited. He certainly has successful basketball genes in his family, seeing as his brother Jerian is a senior point guard star at rival Notre Dame and his father Harvey had a successful NBA career with multiple teams.
- Redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Cooney: This redshirt two-guard sure has no trouble scoring the basketball. He is a prolific shooter but needs to improve other facets of his game to secure his spot in Syracuse’s starting lineup. The Delaware native has two years of practice with Boeheim under his belt which should help his knowledge of the 2-3 zone and offensive schemes.
- Senior center Baye Moussa Keita: The Senegal native and Oak Hill Academy product is a rebounding and shot-blocking force. A key member of Boeheim’ s ‘deepest and best’ frontcourt ever, Keita has had issues with heavier opponents in the paint but is a more than sufficient defender alongside human flyswatter Rakeem Christmas.
- Junior forward/center Rakeem Christmas: The 6’9”, 250-pound Philadelphia native is expected to make big strides this season on the block for Syracuse. A former McDonald’s All-American, Christmas is known for his shot-blocking prowess. His offensive repertoire leaves a bit to be desired as does his tenacity on the boards. A former top rated center (Scout) in high school, Christmas’s wide and athletic body has the potential to do some real damage in the ACC if he adds a few post moves to his skill set.
- Sophomore forward/center DaJuan Coleman: The beefy sophomore big man for Syracuse was a very highly rated recruit coming out of his native state of New York. He, like Christmas, was a McDonald’s All-American and is known for his power and soft touch around the rim. At 280 pounds, Coleman is a monster down low. He had a lingering knee issue that caused him to miss eight games and didn’t allow him to get into a real rhythm his freshman year, only averaging 12.7 minutes per game. However, his talent is undeniable and if he is in good game shape and stays healthy, Coleman should be Syracuse’s primary post scorer this season.
- Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (St. Benedict’s Prep, NJ): A Canadian-born point guard immediately handed the reins to Syracuse’s offense. While a large amount of pressure will be on Ennis from day one, Boeheim believes he is more than capable of handling the offense. Ennis is not a superior athlete but is a very fundamentally sound, well-rounded, heady floor general. He won the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year award and was a top-25 recruit (ESPN, Scout) coming out of high school.
- Freshman forward B.J. Johnson (Lower Merion HS, PA): A 6’7” Philadelphia native who attended Kobe Bryant’s former high school, Johnson is a three-star small forward prospect (Rivals.com). He is not expected to see much playing time behind Fair, Jerami Grant, Michael Gbinije, or fellow freshman Tyler Roberson.
- Freshman forward Tyler Roberson (Roselle Catholic, NJ): A 6’8” Union, New Jersey, native who is a four-star, top-40 recruit (ESPN, Rivals) coming out of high school. A first team all-state performer from New Jersey, Roberson averaged 17.5 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 3.3 BPG in his senior campaign, in which he led Roselle Catholic to the prestigious New Jersey Tournament of Champions title. Roberson has had some early trouble getting cleared by the NCAA, just receiving clearance of his high school transcript a little over a month ago.
- Sophomore transfer guard/forward Michael Gbinije (Benedictine Prep, VA): After not receiving much playing time as a college freshman at Duke, Gbinije decided to transfer to Syracuse. A four-star, top-30 recruit (ESPN, Scout) coming out of high school, he has yet to tap into his vast reservoir of potential. There have been rumors surrounding Syracuse practices that Gbinije may step in to relieve Ennis at point guard from time-to-time, seeing as Ennis is the only ‘true’ point guard Syracuse has on the roster. Needless to say this should be a very interesting season for the long and athletic Gbinije, especially suiting up against his old teammates at Duke in the new ACC.
- Freshman guard Ron Patterson (Brewster Academy, MA): A three-star, top-150 rated prospect (Rivals), Patterson excelled greatly at the historic Brewster Academy, so much that he won the 2012-13 NEPSAC player of the year award. He should be more physically mature than most of his freshmen counterparts, seeing as he did a postgraduate year after high school. He will most likely be stuck behind shooting guard Trevor Cooney and possibly even Gbinije in the rotation.
- Freshman center Chinonso Obokoh (Bishop Kearney, NY): Rated the 19th best center by ESPN coming out of high school, Obokoh is largely considered a project on the interior for Boeheim and his staff. A Nigerian native who clocks in at a very thin 6’10” and 210 pounds, Obokoh hopes to be next in the line of very good rim protectors at Syracuse, especially after Syracuse missed out on 2014 shot blocking sensation Goodluck Okonoboh. Obokoh will have a tough time seeing the court ahead of mainstays Rakeem Christmas, sophomore DaJuan Coleman, and senior Baye Moussa Keita. Lest we forget, Boeheim did call this the best and deepest frontcourt he’s ever coached!
- Syracuse opens its 2013-14 schedule with three relative cakewalk games at home in the Carrier Dome versus Cornell, Colgate, and Fordham. Syracuse should have no trouble here and start the season undefeated.
- The Orange closes out November by heading to the prestigious Maui Invitational tournament and plays in the opener versus St. Francis (NY). They then play Minnesota in their first test versus a major conference opponent. The day after that, they will face either Arkansas or California, depending on how the bracket shakes out. Their final opponent will depend on the other half of the bracket. The test posed by Maui is one of minimal rest, playing three games in three days, testing the resolve and ‘bounce-back’ ability of players and teams.
- A big game circled on Syracuse’s non-conference schedule is the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in which Indiana comes to the Carrier Dome, with all of the history that accompanies the Hoosiers. A welcome to the ACC moment for Syracuse here.
- Syracuse then has five games before it begins conference play in January. Binghamton, High Point, and Eastern Michigan are all easy games for Syracuse at home that should help boost their win total going into ACC play. However, sprinkled into this five-game stretch are two match-ups with old Big East foes. Syracuse travels to New York to face a St. John’s squad that looks very good on paper. Rysheed Jordan, D’Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa should give Syracuse a great game in the famed Madison Square Garden. The second Big East team to tangle with Syracuse in this span is Villanova, coming to the Carrier Dome almost like they never left (the Big East).
- Syracuse’s ACC schedule will be challenging, with a home-and-home with Duke, a home game against North Carolina, two against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome, and dual match-ups with young and potentially surprising Boston College. Their two biggest challenges probably will lay with road games at Duke and at Virginia, both teams expected to finish in the top five of the conference. I wouldn’t count out a tough environment for Syracuse at College Park, Maryland, either. The Terrapins are very athletic, and although they’re inconsistent, they can beat the ACC’s best teams when things are clicking for them at home. Syracuse will certainly be tested in its first ACC season, and if they make it out alive they will be conditioned to go deep in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the ACC’s great depth and rigor.
Syracuse is expected to finish anywhere in the top three in its inaugural season in the ACC. The Orange is ranked #7 in the preseason USA Today poll, the second highest ranking for an ACC team(behind #4 Duke). Syracuse’s zone defense will give teams fits, as it usually does, and although it may have stretches of a few losses bunched together, Jim Boeheim will have his team playing its best basketball come March if history is any indication. If C.J. Fair pushes hard for the ACC Player of the Year award like I believe he should, Syracuse should win 28-32 games this year. A big key for the team’s success will be Tyler Ennis’ ability to successfully orchestrate the offense and fill Carter-Williams’ shoes. No one is expecting him to average 15+ APG and take the sports world by storm, but as long as Ennis manages his turnovers and has a good assist to turnover ratio, the Syracuse offense should be smooth and efficient. Another big question mark for the Orange is the interior offensive ability of the Christmas and Coleman tandem. Last year the two combined for only 9.9 PPG and 8.6 RPG. Those two will need to kick it up a few notches if Syracuse is to have the success its fans and the program has become so accustomed to.